It’s been a tough few weeks for Inside Edition host Deborah Norville, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and then had career-threatening surgery to fix the problem. She’s come through with flying colors, and is now taking The Cocktail inside the soul-shaking process.
A few years ago, a viewer noticed something on Deborah’s neck and wrote in asking her to get it checked out. That gesture has ended up saving her career and maybe her life. At the time, doctors told Deb that it was something to keep an eye on but not a problem. That all changed a few weeks ago, when they found it had turned cancerous.
Rather than turn inward, she lived it out for the world to see. Norville announced it on Inside Edition. Doctor visits were recorded and show and she took us inside the post-op sessions.
And the ordeal has helped renew her faith in humanity. “I was blown away, to be honest, by the response from people. Of course I expected my coworkers to be kind and solicitous, but I was really knocked out by the outpouring I got from so many people who watch the show and my friends in TV at other networks and stuff like that.”
Losing Her Voice
To get at the cancer, her doctor would have to gently pull back the vocal cords. Given that she talks for a living, this posed an existential threat to her career. I asked if she ever thought about alternative treatments like targeted radiation. “No, I didn’t consider other options in terms of the treatment. I trusted my doctor and I’m glad I did.”
While this is a first for her, it’s just a day at the office for him. “This is a doctor for whom this is a very common procedure for him. So that made me feel really good.” And Deb smiled when she told me she had very strict criteria when choosing a surgeon.
“What I have learned is that you want somebody who does whatever you need to have done to you so often that they could do it on one foot standing with their hands tied behind their back.”
Risk & Reward
Just because he’s skilled, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a chance of something going wrong. “He was very straightforward about what the potential risks were. But he also said we can take our time. We can go very slowly. I think there’s a very good chance that we can do this without any damage to your vocal cords, and I trusted him.”
And take his time he did. Not that Deborah noticed, she was under anesthesia. The waiting was the hardest part for her husband. “We had been told it was going to take three hours and that was the consistent story we were getting. And then when he didn’t get the message from the hospital, my husband was concerned. He was like ‘oh gosh!’ He actually admitted to me later that he was starting to think of things like arrangements and how do you tell the children. Which was not necessary at all.”
“But the doctor sort of jokingly said ‘well you didn’t want me to rush, did you?’ And, no, we didn’t want him to rush. I’m happy that he took his time. But is hard for the family member sitting by the phone waiting for good news.”
The moment of truth for Deborah came when she woke up. Would she still be able to work? “When you do come out of the anesthesia, the one thing I was worried about was would the voice be okay. I didn’t want to say anything.” Then she whispered to me “I didn’t want to test my voice to see if it worked, kind of like on the sly.”
So she waited. “I waited for somebody to ask me something medical and I was like they’re asking me something I guess I can answer now. And when I answered, my voice sounded more or less like me and I was like, great, this is the only thing I was worried about and I think we’re gonna be fine.”
Deborah’s prognosis is excellent. She told me she has to take a supplement to make up for thyroid hormone production, and doctors will keep an eye on her remaining thyroid to make sure it stays healthy. But the cancer is gone, and it looks like she’ll avoid chemo and radiation.
And just two weeks after surgery, she’s back at work with nothing but a small bandage on her neck that you don’t notice, even in HD quality! Well done, doc!
Sharing Her Story
In the age of social media, it’s hard for high-profile celebs to keep anything private, and I asked if this had happened 20 years ago, would she have kept this more private.
Short answer: No. “If you don’t take ownership of the story, someone else will and they won’t get it right.”
“I think if you’re a public person, it’s like the law of physics. That dictates that something will fill that vacuum. So if you leave a vaccuum of facts someone or something will come in and fill that hole. It’s not going to be right and it’s not going to be from the source.”
So for Deb, it’s just about being herself, and being honest. “If the facts are unpleasant, unhappy, unkind, or cruel, so be it. It’s the facts.”
“So the smart play, as far as someone who’s been in this business for so many years, is to take ownership of it. And frankly, it’s just a lot easier to remember the truth than remember what the lies were that you made up.”
Her show, Inside Edition, covers all sorts of stories that can drag your spirit down. Her first story when she returned to work was a child tossed over the rail at a mall. Add a cancer diagnosis, I can’t imagine how she stays so upbeat and positive. So she told me!
“I’m reminded as you ask that question of what Mr. Rogers says his mother used to say. Look for the helpers, there’s always the helpers.”
“The first thing you knew was that people had rushed in and the mom said ‘pray for my child.’ Immediately after that accident happened, there were people who were talking directly to god to hold this little child in his hands. We didn’t have to share that part of the story, but we did. Because editorially we think it’s important for people to hear that part of the story, too.”
So Deborah seized on the opportunity to be a helper to others who will find themselves in similar situations. “To me, we live in such a contentious time, the political discourse is unkind. We were all shocked at the destruction of the Notre Dame Cathedral. I was just like, wow, this underscores the world is filled with kind and compassionate people and caring people, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing to share that story, too.”
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Hot Tea with honey and a squeeze of lemon. And a splash of Titos. It’s warm and soothing for your vocal cords and your nerves. The best recovery twofer I can think of!
Stay well, Deborah!